Aid agencies warn of escalating crisis in Syria

BEIRUT (AP) — The Latest developments on the Turkish offensive against Syrian Kurdish fighters in northeastern Syria (all times local):

4:30 p.m.

A group of 14 international aid agencies are warning of an escalating humanitarian crisis in northeast Syria.

They say “civilians (are) at risk as violence escalates and humanitarian work is suspended.”

Thursday’s statement co-signed by the organizations — including Doctors Without Borders, Oxfam and the Norwegian Refugee Council — said an estimated 450,000 people live within 5 kilometers (3 miles) of the Syria’s border with Turkey “and are at risk if all sides do not exercise maximum restraint and prioritize the protection of civilians.”

It added there already are more than 90,000 internally displaced people in the region, and tens of thousands of fighters with families held in camps and detention centers.

The aid agencies also are urging parties to the conflict to respect International Humanitarian Law and refrain from using explosive weapons in populated areas.


4 p.m.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is condemning the Turkish invasion of Kurdish areas in Syria and warning of an “ethnic cleansing” against them.

Netanyahu says Thursday that Israel is prepared to extend humanitarian assistance to the “gallant Kurdish people.”

Turkey launched airstrikes, fired artillery and began a ground offensive against Kurdish fighters in northern Syria on Wednesday.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan announced the campaign following President Donald Trump’s abrupt decision to withdraw forces from the region. It essentially abandoned Syrian Kurdish fighters and left the U.S. ally vulnerable to a Turkish offensive that was widely condemned around the world.

The decision was a major shift in U.S. policy, raising fears in Israel that the unpredictable Trump could just as easily renege of his traditional support of Israel.


3:55 p.m.

The U.N. refugee agency says tens of thousands of civilians in Syria are on the move to escape the fighting and seek safety amid a Turkish offensive into the area.

Thursday’s statement by UNHCR came a day after Turkish troops began a military operation against Kurdish fighters in Syria.

UNHCR called on parties to adhere to International Humanitarian Law, including providing access for aid agencies.

The agency said hundreds of thousands of civilians “in northern Syria are now in harm’s way. Civilians and civilian infrastructure must not be a target.”

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said that more than 60,000 have fled their homes in northern Syria since Wednesday.

UNHCR said after eight years of conflict, Syria remains the largest refugee crisis in the world, with 5.6 million Syrians living as refugees.


3:45 p.m.

British Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab says he’s reached out to his Turkish counterpart to urge restraint following Turkey’s decision to launch an offensive into Kurdish-held areas in northern Syria.

Raab said in a tweet Thursday that he spoke with Mevlut Cavusoglu to express “disappointment and concern” about the incursion and call for restraint.

Raab says “the intervention risks greater humanitarian suffering and undermines the focus on countering” the activities of the Islamic State group.

Turkey’s assault on Kurdish-led forces follows U.S. President Donald Trump’s decision to withdraw U.S. troops from the area.


2:55 p.m.

A Kurdish news agency and a war monitor say Turkish troops have bombarded a convoy of vehicles taking residents of the northern city of Raqqa to a border town, inflicting casualties among them.

The Kurdish Hawar news agency said the Thursday’s attack on the road leading to the border town of Tal Abyad killed three people and wounded several others.

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said the Turkish airstrike occurred when a convoy carrying a tribal leader reached the entrance of Tal Abyad. It said several people were wounded but that no one was killed.

Such contradictions in casualties’ figures are common in the aftermath of attacks.

Turkish troops have been bombarding the town of Tal Abyad since the start of their ground offensive against Kurdish fighters on Wednesday.


2:50 p.m.

Two mortars fired from Syria have landed in a Turkish town along the border, wounding at least two people.

An Associated Press journalist said at least two government buildings were hit by the mortars in Sanliurfa province’s border town of Akcakale.

Numerous ambulances rushed to the scene following the attack. At least two people were taken to hospitals.

Turkish media said mortars were fired from the town of Tel Abyad in northeastern Syria.

Syrian Kurdish fighters have struck at least five different Turkish borders towns with dozens of mortars since Turkey launched a cross-border offensive against the group Wednesday.

Residents were asked to evacuate immediate border areas, remain indoors and be vigilant. Turkey has argued the operation as necessary for its national security.

Turkey’s invasion of northeastern Syria has been widely condemned.


2:30 p.m.

Turkey’s president says his country would handle “as required” Islamic State militants in areas it captures during its current offensive into northeastern Syria against the Syrian Kurdish forces there.

Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s remarks followed international warnings that Turkey’s invasion of northeastern Syria could unravel counter-terrorism efforts.

Erdogan said in a speech on Thursday that Turkey would keep in custody IS fighters who should be jailed while deporting others to their countries of origin — if they could accept them.

He said women and children of the Islamic State group would go through a rehabilitation program and vowed that IS “will not have a presence in this area again.”

Erdogan stressed: “I want to give this guarantee to the whole world.”

Washington has backed and armed Syrian Kurdish forces to combat IS. Turkey’s military operation against the Kurdish fighters could undermine gains against IS and puts at risk the detention of tens of thousands of IS members.


2:10 p.m.

Denmark and India have added their voices to the international condemnation and concerns over Turkey’s invasion of northeastern Syria in an offensive there against Syrian Kurdish fighters.

Danish Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen called it “an extremely serious situation, and there is reason to be concerned about civilians.”

Frederiksen said Foreign Minister Jeppe Kofod has summoned Turkey’s ambassador to Denmark “for a conversation in which we will assert our position.” No details were given as to when the Turkish. diplomat would meet Kofod.

India’s foreign ministry issued a press release saying New Delhi is “deeply concerned at the unilateral military offensive by Turkey in north-east Syria.”

It cautioned that Turkey’s actions can undermine stability in the region and the fight against terrorism. Its action also has the potential for causing humanitarian and civilian distress.

India also urged Turkey to “exercise restraint and respect the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Syria.”


2 p.m.

The European Union says that the Turkish offensive in Kurdish-held areas of Syria is setting back any hope for progress toward ending the conflict.

EU spokeswoman Maja Kocijancic said on Thursday that the offensive will worsen the stream of refugees from Syria, increase violence against innocent civilians and obstruct the fight against the Islamic State group.

She says: “We believe that new armed hostilities would further undermine the stability of the whole region, would exacerbate civilian suffering, would provoke further displacements, would add another obstacle to the very difficult UN led political process and would, that is also very important, threaten the progress that was achieved by the global coalition to defeat” IS.

She added that there is “no military solution to the conflict in Syria and the only sustainable solution is a political one.”

EU foreign ministers will discuss the crisis next Monday in Luxembourg before EU leaders will pick it up again during their two-day summit meeting starting next Thursday.


1:40 p.m.

Turkey’s president says that there have been 109 “terrorists killed” — a reference to Syrian Kurdish fighters — since Ankara launched an offensive into Syria the previous day.

Recep Tayyip Erdogan did not elaborate and the reports on the ground did not indicate anything remotely close to such a large number of casualties.

Erdogan also warned the European Union not to call Ankara’s incursion into Syria an ‘invasion,’ and renewed his threat of letting Syrian refugees flood Europe.

He reiterated an earlier statement that Turkey could “open the gates” for an influx of Syrian migrants to Europe.

Erdogan spoke to ruling party officials on Thursday, saying Turkey seeks to prevent the creation of a “terror state” along its border with Syria.


1: 10 p.m.

Turkey’s state-run news agency says Turkey-allied Syrian opposition fighters have “cleared of terror” two villages across the border in Syria — meaning there are no more Syrian Kurdish fighters in those villages.

Anadolu Agency said on Thursday the Turkish-backed fighters entered the villages of Yabisa and Tel Fander. It did not provide further details.

Maj. Youssef Hammoud, a spokesman for Turkey-backed Syrian rebels, tweeted that they were in Yabisa, near the town of Tal Abyad, describing it as “the first village to win freedom.”

Meanwhile, the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said Turkish commandos entered the village of Beir Asheq, near the town of Tal Abyad on Thursday morning.

Turkish forces began a ground offensive against Kurdish fighters in northern Syria on Wednesday under the cover of airstrikes and artillery shelling.


12:40 p.m.

Finnish Prime Minister Antti Rinne, whose country currently holds the European Union’s rotating presidency, says that Finland condemns Turkey’s offensive in Syria and appeals for the cessation of hostilities.

Rinne said in a statement on Thursday that Turkey’s actions “aggravate the already complex crisis in Syria.”

He says: “We are very concerned about the impacts of the measures on the humanitarian situation in Syria. Hostilities in the region may provoke further displacements.”

Rinne added that the Finnish government would cease granting new arms exports licenses to Turkey or other countries “engaged in war” in the area.

EU foreign ministers will convene for a meeting in Luxembourg on Monday. At the gathering, Finland will call attention to Turkey’s attack, its impact on refugees in the region, and the humanitarian needs of Syria.


9:20 a.m.

Turkey’s Defense Ministry says Turkish ground troops are continuing their advance against Kurdish fighters in northern Syria.

A ministry statement early on Thursday did not provide further detail on the offensive but shared a brief video of commandos in action.

Turkey’s invasion of northeastern Syria began on Wednesday after U.S. troops pulled back from the area, paving the way for Turkey’s assault on Syrian Kurdish forces, long been allied with the U.S.

The ministry said Turkish jets and artillery struck 181 targets east of the Euphrates River since the incursion started.

Turkey says it intends to create a “safe zone” that would push Kurdish militia away from its border and eventually allow the repatriation of up to 2 million Syrian refugees.

The Turkish invasion is widely condemned around the world.